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  • Stacie Schmidt

Big Kansas Road Trip Op-Ed

The following ran in the Ellsworth County Independent Reporter opinion page on 5.16.24, following the conclusion of Ellsworth County hosting the Big Kansas Road Trip:

When Marci Penner, founder and co-Director of the esteemed Kansas Sampler Foundation calls your community, you answer the call.  And when she asks “would you be interested in….?,” the answer is always yes.  And so it began with the opportunity to become a host county, along with Lincoln County and the community of Lucas for the Big Kansas Road Trip ‘24.  The call came in April 2023, and it was an easy “yes” for Grow Ellsworth County, even without knowing the details.  It was clear that this was the largest tourism opportunity Ellsworth County would have the opportunity to host.   And as I was considering how I could possibly express on paper how much this opportunity meant to our community, I thought about the season of the year, and how I could compare the layers of the Big Kansas Road Trip to gardening.

At the root of the Big Kansas Road Trip are the founders and staff of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, akin to the soil in a garden. Just as healthy soil provides the necessary foundation for plants to grow, their rural advocacy and loyal followers have laid the fertile groundwork upon which this event blossoms. Their steadfast commitment ensures that the road trip remains rooted in its mission to celebrate the diverse and amazing sense of belonging and community of rural Kansas at its best.

As we move up through the layers, we encounter the local leaders of Ellsworth County, Lincoln County, and Lucas, who serve as the gardeners of this collective endeavor. Like skilled horticulturists, they cultivate the vision and direction of the road trip, and it was a true testament to the power of regional collaborative spirit and a pleasure to work alongside Kelly Gourley, Kris Heinze, Erika Nelson, Lacie Austin, and of course Michelle here in the Grow Ellsworth County office.  In Ellsworth County, the Grow Ellsworth County office calculated approximately 1500+ staff hours to this event, knowing any dedication would pay off in spades for the community’s businesses, attractions, museums, non-profits, and more.

Next, we encounter the community champions, pollinators in a garden. These individuals are the catalysts for community engagement and participation. Their enthusiasm and advocacy help to pollinate interest in the road trip, encouraging others to join in the celebration of Ellsworth County’s offerings and community pride.  Deneen Urbanek, Sara Oberle, Kenny and Marci Beneda, Tom Wilkinson, and Michelle Skurkis, you are community treasures.

But a garden would not thrive without the diversity of plants and flowers that inhabit its landscape. Similarly, the participating businesses, organizations, shop stops, and restaurants add color and vibrancy to the Big Kansas Road Trip. Like blooms in a garden, they enrich the event with their unique offerings and experiences, creating the core of the event.

And let us not forget the volunteers, who are the garden caretakers of the Big Kansas Road Trip. They work tirelessly and often unseen. Whether they are planting seeds of opportunity, watering the roots of community engagement, or pruning away obstacles, their efforts are essential to the success of the road trip.

The Big Kansas Road Trip is a flourishing garden of community, culture, and connection. Each layer of this event is integral and contributes to its vitality and growth. Let’s continue to cultivate this shared experience, harnessing the spirit of collaboration and pride well Beyond The Road Trip.

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